On September 19, 1902, a crowd of 3,000 people were gathered at the Shiloh Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama to listen to a speech by Booker T. Washington. When the speech was over, two men began fighting one another. Someone shouted, “fight!” but the crowd mistook it for “fire!” This caused people to panic, and many people started to leave. A minister stood up and shouted “quiet!” to try to get people to calm down, but that again was mistaken for a second “fire!” People began to rush for the stairs, which were flanked by two tall brick walls. This pushed people into falling on the ground and succumbing to the weight of the masses. Approximately 110 people perished, and many others were seriously injured.
On December 30, 1903, a large audience was gathered at the Iroquois Theatre in Chicago, Illinois. The theater had 1,602 seats spread across three levels of the building, as well as a “standing room” area that brought the audience total up to 2,000. But they all filtered through just one entrance at the front of the building. (This was against fire ordinances, even at that time.) As you can imagine, this spelled disaster once a fire finally broke out. Some of the stage lights short-circuited, and sparks caught the curtains on fire. Sadly, the crowd was mostly women and children. During the panic, people were trying to rush out of the theater, and many were crushed by the stampede. The passed victims were piled 10 feet high near the exits. A total of 575 people perished in this tragedy, which is an even higher toll than the Great Chicago Fire.
On March 4, 1908, a fire broke out at the Lake View School in Collinwood, Ohio. The school only had two exits, and the front door was blocked by the flames. This caused all of the students and staff to rush towards the back door. Unfortunately, the hallway was so narrow that the people started to stumble and fall to the ground. A pile of people began forming, which blocked the back door completely. In total, 172 students, 2 teachers, and one rescuer succumbed to the fire. The parents protested rebuilding a new school on the same property. So that land was turned into a memorial garden, and the new school was built in a new location.
On December 24, 1913, a Christmas party was being held at the Italian Hall in Calumet, Michigan for striking miners and their families. The party was taking place on the second floor of the building, which was only accessible by a steep staircase. (There was also a fire escape outside of the windows.) Someone shouted, “Fire!” even though there wasn’t actually one. But this caused people to panic and rush for the staircase. A total of 73 people- 59 of which were children- perished in the stampede. According to many witnesses, the man who shouted “fire” was anti-union, and did this on purpose because the mining workers were on strike. Unfortunately, though, the man was never identified. This sparked a lot of debate among historians, who argue as to what actually happened that day. But the Italian Hall was eventually torn down. Only a stone archway remains.
On December 31, 1929, a crowd of approximately 700 to 1,000 children was gathered in the Glen Cinema in Renfrewshire, Scotland. In Scotland, January 2nd is a holiday called Hogmany. Since it was New Years Eve, many parents sent their kids away to the matinee, because they wanted them out of the house so they could clean for the upcoming celebrations. An employee opened a brand new film canister to show a movie, but the flammable nitrate film began to smoke. When the smoke poured into the theater, someone shouted, “fire!” Crowds of children began running out of the theater, and a total of 71 kids were crushed. The kids who stayed in their seats ignoring the warning were perfectly fine, and they were later rescued by firefighters. This is still considered to be one of the worst disasters in Scottish history.
On January 9, 1934, a crowd of 10,000 people were gathered at the Kyoto Station in Japan to send off 750 naval recruits of the Imperial Japanese Navy. It was tradition to give military members a big farewell, so friends and family of the recruits showed up to say goodbye. But the unprecedented number of people was far over the station’s capacity, and it ended up causing a tragedy. A man fell on the stairs which lead down to the platform. Other people began to fall over him, and the crowd continued to press down on the bodies of people. Some people jumped out of the train when they could see the avalanche of people tumbling down the train, but it left on time despite everything.
This tragedy occurred on June 5, 1941, when people were escaping from the Japanese Bombing of Chongqing in the Second Sino-Japanese War. A crowd of people were trying to make their way to the air raid shelters built by the Chinese government. Tens of thousands of people entered to the Shiba Ti Tunnel bomb shelter and they were locked from the outside to avoid being hit by bombs. The tunnel was designed to only hold 4,000 people, so it was way overcrowded. There was very poor circulation in the tunnel, and toxic gas and carbon dioxide was filling up the already crowded space. Many people were beginning to suffocate. Crowding and lack of oxygen caused a stampede to get out of the tunnel, crushing the people who were in the only way out. It took 5 days to remove the 992 dead and 4,000 injured.
The Bethnal Green Tube Disaster on March 3, 1943 was the UK’s largest single loss of civilian life during World War II. During an air raid, thousands of people began to panic and rush for the entrance to the London Underground. One woman tripped while holding her child, and brought down an elderly man with her. The crowd had no idea what was going on, as more people began to trip and fall. In total, 173 people became trapped at the door of the tube, and became asphyxiated. At the time, the British government told nurses and doctors at the local hospitals who treated these people to keep this incident quiet, because they didn’t want to ruin local morale. Years later, it was finally acknowledged, and a memorial service was given for the victims of the disaster.
On July 6, 1944 a performance of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was under the big top in Hartford, Connecticut. It’s estimated that 6,000 to 8,000 people were in attendance that day. There were two performances that day- one in the morning, and one in the evening. But the trains were late, so they had to cancel the morning show. In circus tradition, this is considered very bad luck. Ironically, that superstition came true when a fire started. An employee signaled the band to begin playing “Stars and Stripes Forever”, which was a secret circus code for “disaster”. The tent had one large door, and 8 smaller exits. However, many of the alternative exits were blocked by wagons, big cat cages, and other large objects. It’s estimated that 168 people passed, and 700 were injured from burns or being crushed in the stampede.
On March 9, 1946, a crowd of 85,000 people was gathered at the Burnden Park football stadium in Lancashire, England. This stadium was over-capacity so much that the crowd led all the way back to the parking lot. Just before the game started, the crowd spilled out onto the soccer pitch. The game had to be paused while personnel tried to get people off of the field. There were so many people that two of the barriers collapsed, crushing many people underneath. The 33 dead bodies were removed from the field, and lined up near the railway station. Despite this awful tragedy happening, they continued with the game anyway. A player named Stanley Matthews later said that he was disgusted that they allowed the game to continue like nothing had happened. Because of this disaster, there were more strict rules limiting just 10,000 people into the stadium.
On March 9, 1953, thousands of people showed up in the Red Square of Moscow for the funeral service of Joseph Stalin. During the ceremony, there were multiple speeches given in his honor, and there was a moment of silence. Then bells chimed from the Kremlin Tower. Horns and sirens wailed, and the soldiers gave a 21-gun salute. After the silence, a military band began playing the Soviet National Anthem, and they began a parade through the square. Meanwhile, similar services were being held in other parts of the USSR including China, Mongolia and North Korea. But the crowd was so huge during this funeral, that it caused people to be crushed in the stampede. There were an estimated 109 people who perished that day in the Russian Red Square.
On February 3, 1954, a festival of Kumbh Mela was held in Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh state in India. It was estimated that 4 to 5 million pilgrims arrived for this festival. This was unprecedented, because more people than usual were out celebrating after India’s independence. The trouble began when the massive crowd broke through a barrier that was meant to separate the audience from a procession of holy men who were walking in a procession. Once the barriers broke down, this resulted in a stampede for some reason. The body count varies drastically depending on the source. Somewhere between 350 to 800 people passed, and up to 2,000 people were injured. Believe it or not, Kumbh Mela stampedes happened for multiple years, claiming dozens of lives. But 1954 was the year with the most lives lost.
The Seoul station Crush of 1960 occurred two days before the Lunar New Year, when many people were returning to their hometowns. About 3,900 people, more than three times the average crowd, flocked to the ticket gate. Over 200 tickets were sold for a train with a capacity of just 80 people. As you can imagine, this was a disaster. A crowd of people tried to push themselves onto the train, and it caused the demise of 31 people.
On May 24, 1964, there was a soccer match between Peru and Argentina held in the stadium called Estadio Nacional in Lima, Peru. This game attracted a crowd of 53,000 people. During the game, members of the audience became angry by one of the calls made by the referee. So angry fans began pouring out onto the soccer pitch. This caused security personnel to throw a can of tear gas into the crowd. Once the tear gas started pouring out into the crowds, many fans panicked and tried to run out of the stadium. The exits were down several flights of stairs. But at the bottom of the steps, doors made of corrugated steel were closed. Crowds kept pushing forward, which crushed people at the front who could not get out. A total of 328 people passed, but the fans who stayed in their seats were perfectly fine.
On January 2, 1971, a large crowd of 80,000 fans was gathered to watch an Old Firm football game at Ibrox Park Stadium in Glasgow, Scotland. Throughout the years, there had been multiple tragedies that took place at Ibrox Park where dozens of people perished, and it was a red flag that there were some serious safety concerns with the construction of the stadium. But one of the biggest disasters happened in 1971 when 66 people were crushed when fans were trying to leave the stadium. No one is sure how or why it happened, but most speculate that someone tripped on the steps when trying to leave the park, and it triggered a ripple effect of people getting crushed.
On June 23, 1968 in El Monumental, Argentina there was a tied 0-0 match between two soccer teams. There was a rush to leave the stadium, claiming the lives of 71 people in a stampede. No one is exactly sure what caused the panic, but some reports say that Boca Juniors fans were throwing burning River flags off the top tier of the stadium. When other fans saw literal fire falling from the sky, they panicked, and started a stampede. They attempted to exit Gate 12, but it was locked. And yet the crowd just kept coming, and pushing the sea of people forward until dozens were crushed. What makes this even more tragic is the fact that most of the people who perished were teenagers and young men. The average age of the victims was 19.
On May 29, 1985, soccer fans were gathered at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels to watch Liverpool versus Juventus. Before the game started, a group of drunk Liverpool fans began to rush the fence that separated them from the Juventus fans. The drunken fans wanted to start a riot, which caused many of the innocent Juventus fans to run in the opposite direction. This pressed them up against a concrete wall. The pressure of the crowd was so strong, it actually caused the wall to collapse, and many people escaped. A total of 39 people tragically passed, and over 600 were injured. Most of the victims were Italian Juventus fans. When the dust settled, many of the instigators of the riot were arrested, and 14 of those Liverpool fans were convicted of manslaughter. The incident has been called “the darkest hour in the history of the UEFA competitions”.
On April 15, 1989, football clubs Liverpool and Nottingham Forest were playing against one another at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England. Before the game started, there was a huge crowd waiting outside of the turnstiles to get into the stadium. A police officer named David Duckenfield was trying to ease the crowd, so he ordered exit gate C to open. This accidentally had the opposite effect, because people began to crowd towards gate C, and it resulted in the human crush. A total of 97 fatalities and 766 injuries means that the Hillsborough Disaster has the highest death toll in British sporting history. This was considered an “accidental death”, but the families of the victims spent the next few decades trying to prosecute those responsible. In June 2017, six people were charged with offenses including manslaughter and misconduct.
On July 3, 1990, a total of 1,426 people were suffocated and trampled in a tunnel near Mecca during the annual Muslim pilgrimage known as the Hajj. There is a tunnel called Al-Ma’aisim that is specifically used as a pedestrian walkway leading out of Mecca, heading towards Mina. Thousands of people were walking towards the Stoning of the Devil ritual, which was supposed to begin at 10AM. Unfortunately, a pedestrian bridge was bent, and many people started to fall off, landing on top of people exiting the tunnel. People began to panic when they saw people falling from the sky, and the tunnel filled up with over 5,000 people when the maximum capacity is just 1,000 people. This caused people to suffocate and become crushed. After the event, King Fahd declared that the event was “God’s will, which is above everything”.
On January 18, 1991, over 13,000 fans were packed into the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, Utah to watch an AC/DC concert. When the concert started, fans standing in front of the stage started pushing one another to get closer to the front. This is actually very common at concerts, but for some reason, this night was different. At least 6 people were seriously injured, and two fell into a coma and later passed. One of the victims was a 14-year old named Curtis Child. This was his first concert ever, and it ended in fatality. Curtis’ family sued AC/DC and the concert promoters for $8 million. In the end, they settled with the families of the victims out of court for an undisclosed amount of money.
On January 1 of 1993, 20 lives were lost and 71 were injured in Hong Kong in the night club district on Lan Kwai Fong street. A crowd of 20,000 people rushed out of restaurants and clubs and surged into the streets so they could witness the countdown to midnight. This sounds very normal, because it happens every year on New Year’s Eve in New York City when people gather to see the ball drop. But there was something about that crowd in Hong Kong that night that caused a stampede to occur.
In January of 1999, over 200,000 pilgrims were gathered at the Hindu Sabarimala shrine in Kerala, India. They were all scrambling to witness what they called a “celestial light” that they could see in the distance. Thousands of men were standing on a hill. A landslide occurred from the sheer weight of those people standing on the hill. This caused a panic of people running away from the landslide, rushing down the hill as it fell, and people being buried alive. A total of 52 people perished in the tragedy. This wasn’t the first tragedy to happen to Hindu pilgrims, though. In 1996, more than 200 pilgrims perished when they were caught in a blizzard en route to the sacred Amarnath cave site in the northern state of Kashmir. After the tragedy, the owners of the temple admitted that their “celestial light” was actually man made.
The Throb nightclub disaster occurred on March 24, 2000. A panic broke out after the detonation of a tear gas canister at the Throb nightclub in Chatsworth, Durban in South Africa. Unlike most nightclubs, this night was filled with very young kids who went out dancing. There were 600 children from age 11-14 celebrating the end of term. The incident resulted in the demise of 13 children and 100 injured. The youngest to pass in the accident was just 11 years old. Vincent Pillay, Selvan Naidoo, and Sivanthan Chetty were accused for the incident. Naidoo and Pillay later admitted their involvement in the Durban High Court. Naidoo confessed that he put the canister behind the speakers after Pillay smuggled it inside the club. He said he was offered $1,000 and a job at Silver Slipper Club by Chetty, the manager there.